“I remember fields of goldenrod — we had a cornfield literally across the fence in our backyard,” said Ms. Paltiel, who spent her early years in Bennington, Neb., and whose flag proposal was among about 30 submitted through the crowdsourcing effort on skillshare.com, a website offering professional support and training for artists.
State pride is in ample supply here. Residents brag about their unique unicameral Legislature, where lawmakers do not caucus by party, and frequently don scarlet Nebraska T-shirts celebrating the state’s flagship university and its football team, the Cornhuskers.
But few seem entranced by the flag, which was adopted in 1925 by superimposing the state seal on a blue background.
Critics say the flag tries to convey too much information, making it hard to decipher from a distance. For a single piece of cloth, there is a lot going on. The flag lists the date of statehood (March 1, 1867) and the state motto (Equality Before the Law) alongside a steamboat, the Missouri River, a cabin, a train, cornstalks and a man wielding a hammer, among other features.
“We don’t have anything that says ‘Oh, hey, that represents Nebraska,’” said Mr. Harr, who cited South Carolina’s iconic palmetto tree and crescent as a successful state flag.
DiAnna Schimek, a former legislator from Lincoln, tried and failed to replace the flag in the early 2000s after attending a national conference of state lawmakers where officials had displayed all the states’ flags on a stage.
“And I said, ‘Where’s Nebraska? I can’t tell which one is the Nebraska flag,’” Ms. Schimek recalled.
Nebraska’s is one of more than 20 state flags — in locations as varied as Maine, South Dakota, New York and Minnesota — with a style so bland and similar as to start blurring together: a blue background with a state seal or emblem in the middle. Others in that group, including Michigan and Wisconsin, have considered fresh designs in recent years.
John M. Hartvigsen, president of the North American Vexillological Association, said the state seal on a solid background is a product of a different era when state flags had a more limited role.
“They were carried in parades or they were on display in the capitol, but they were not intended to be used the way they are today,” said Mr. Hartvigsen. “After World War II, we started mass-producing state flags, and we flew them next to the Stars and Stripes.”
In some places, state flags have grown ubiquitous, showing up on football helmets in Maryland and swim trunks in Colorado. In Texas, the Lone Star flag is so beloved that a supersize version, large enough to cover the side of a building, makes frequent appearances at parades and sporting events.
Mr. Hartvigsen’s organization suggests principles for successful flag design: simple concepts, a distinct look, bold colors and no words.
Nebraska’s banner violates nearly all of them.
“It’s a flag that would be easy to fly upside down with nobody noticing,” Mr. Hartvigsen said.
On the streets of Omaha, many struggled to describe the current flag, which flies mostly on government buildings and outside banks.
“I feel like it’s blue with a circle,” said Mark Schlueter, a salon owner, who was unsure but ultimately correct.
Still, there are qualms about a replacement. Some believe that Senator Harr and his legislative colleagues should work on more substantive issues and let the flag fly. A spokesman for Gov. Pete Ricketts declined to take a position, saying the governor was instead “focused on his priorities to grow Nebraska, such as tax reform and expanding international trade.” And one state senator, Steve Erdman, questioned the replacement costs and called the current flag “an honorable piece of handiwork handed down to us from our forefathers.”
Other skeptics cited the impassioned uproar that ensues every time Nebraska redesigns its license plates, and predicted that talk about a new flag could devolve similarly. Last year, a new license plate design was tweaked after critics said it was historically inaccurate and sexually suggestive.
“I don’t know what the hubbub’s about,” said Eric Ziegler, a music store manager in Omaha who finds the current flag to be perfectly sufficient. If lawmakers insist on a new design, he urged against “something goofy, like a football wrapped in a corn husk.”
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